Storytelling fills our basic need for intergenerational, in particular, mother-child bonding. It has been practised since ancient times. However few of us, mothers included, are born raconteurs; hence the enduring fairy tales and booming sales of children’s books.
In 2014, Walt Disney Animation Studio and Pixar Animation Studios teamed up with Disney Worldwide Publishing to launch a series of children’s books by their artists and storytellers. Thus was born the Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase series.
That was also a way to recognise and provide an avenue to showcase the talents of their artists. Otherwise the only public recognition they received would be the ever-too-brief mention in the lines of credit rolling fast, up the screen at the end of a movie.
Most children’s books, being produced in the West, are heavy with themes and scenes familiar only to their Western urban readers. Even when those books venture to the countryside as with the Peter Rabbit series, the farm scenes are heavily sanitised.
Rosana Sullivan’s “Mommy Sayang” (Mommy, Love!) is a refreshing exception.
Hers is autobiographical, set in a Malay kampung. Her story arc is simple and readily comprehensible but nonetheless profound: a child’s secure, comfortable world suddenly turned topsy-turvy by an unforeseen incident.
This sudden reversal of fortune is a universal theme; likewise a mother’s love for her child, and vice versa.
Mommy Sayang follows the endless curiosities of a child, Aleeya, and her mother’s ever-patient and attentive responses to her endless whys. This maternal-love theme is reinforced throughout the book.
After the panoramic kampung scene on the first page, complete with the adjacent rice fields, cars parked in front yards, houses on stilts with the women casually conversing on the steps, the obligatory mosque, and yes, even a water buffalo with a little boy holding the tether, is the sketch of two mother hens with their broods happily pecking on the spacious grounds.
On the next page a mother cat is nursing her kittens. Mother hens and cat look contended, like all mothers.
Then there are the scenes of Aleeya’s mother cooking, serving dinner, and praying. There is the touching picture of her mother’s storytelling and kissing her at bed-time that sends Aleeya into extravagant dreams of flowers, all in vivid, vibrant colours.
The illustrations reveal much about Malay culture, right down to the foods people of this race eats. There is the ubiquitous durian on the table served next to a Caucasian-looking guest, and without him grimacing!
Aleeya’s world is suddenly turned upside down when her mother falls sick. The whole household routine is disrupted. Unable to comprehend the sudden change, Aleeya acts out as her aunts and others try to console her.
She finds solace in the beautiful flowers in her yard as well as in her dreams. She picks one colourful hibiscus in full bloom and gives it to her mother.
As with all Disney stories, with that simple gesture her mother feels better – a combination of the healing power of nature’s beauty and a child’s love. And Aleeya’s world is restored!
Rosana, American-born and of Malaysian descent, now resides in Oakland, California. Among the many films she has worked on are “The Good Dinosaur”, “Coco”, and “Incredibles 2”.
She recently released her first short animation, “Kitbull”, written and directed by herself, to critical reviews.
Mommy Sayang is her first children’s book, suitable for three- to seven-year-olds. It is delightfully written and even more beautifully illustrated.
As you would expect from an outfit like Disney, the technical quality of this hardcover is flawless. This book would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift for a young mother.
I am getting a few for my many grandnieces who are now mothers or soon-to-be mothers. The book would also be an excellent and enjoyable way to introduce your child to a very different culture – that of the rural Malay.
The focal points of the illustrations are clear and well depicted. Thus you can see the serene reflections on the subject’s face, as with the cat and her kittens.
The background is uncluttered but nonetheless conveys the essence of a Malay kitchen and kampung.
This book is a universe beyond, in content and presentation, to the “A Man, A Pan” English reading text I had in primary school back during the colonial days of the early 1950s.
If the Ministry of Education is looking for supplementary reading books in its effort to increase the English fluency of rural pupils, this is the one to get.
The only anachronism in the illustrations for me growing up in a kampung in the 1950s would be the gas stove and electric fans. We had neither in those days.
In Arabic, Aleeyah means exalted or sublime. Despite Malaysia’s obsession with matters Arabic, modern Malays tend to dispense with the “h” ending, as with “Maria” instead of “Mariah.” The Western influence is still pervasive.
With Rosana’s gift for drawing and storytelling, Aleeya will soon be a well-known children’s character, adorable to kids and adults. Elsa, meet your competition!
Book Review: Rosana Sullivan’s “Mommy Sayang”, Pixar Animation Studios Artist Showcase Series ; Disney Press, New York & Los Angeles, April 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-368-01590-5 / LCCN: 2018033419
Hardcover: 48 pages; $11.72
Age level: 4-7 (Preschool and Kindergarten)